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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Jerusalem: Center of the World' on KCET

The subtitle, 'The Epic History of the World's Most Contested Piece of Real Estate,' aptly describes a two-hour documentary that isn't for scholars but does serve as an excellent primer.

April 01, 2009|Tony Perry

Occasionally comes a documentary whose title tells it all.

Such an event is "Jerusalem: Center of the World," with the secondary title: "The Epic History of the World's Most Contested Piece of Real Estate." The two-hour program airs tonight at 9 on KCET.

Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," walks the viewer through a city at the crossroads of three religions, where turmoil and contention are ever-present.

"Jerusalem" is careful to point out which stories can be validated and which are possible embellishments or based more on faith than facts. Suarez's walk through the underground water canals is a mini-gem.

He visits the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, making understandable their tangled history amid the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities.

It's a yeoman's task. Any part of the history of Jerusalem is worth its own documentary. The Crusades, for example, or the role of Muhammad and/or Jesus. If good documentarians aren't at work on a full-length look at Saladin, the Kurdish general, they should be.

"Jerusalem" may seem a bit slow in the beginning and a bit rushed at the end as it grapples with the modern warfare and feuding that continue to shape the city. But in the middle, it's a top-notch effort, not enough for the scholar or devotee perhaps, but an excellent primer for people who may know the name but not the full story.

"Jerusalem" is the work of Andrew Goldberg and his Two Cats Production on behalf of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Goldberg's other documentaries have explored the Armenian genocide and contemporary anti-Semitism; he won a New York Emmy in 2003 for "A Yiddish World Remembered."

Good interviews with historians, good graphics and wonderful use of historic artwork make "Jerusalem" a story that is both timely -- with Passover and Easter approaching -- and timeless.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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'Jerusalem: Center of the World'

Where: KCET

When: 9 tonight

Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)

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